University of South Florida


University of South Florida researchers release findings from nationwide social media opinion survey

A stock image of people using their cell phones

Researchers at the University of South Florida, in partnership with Cyber Florida at USF, have released results from a nationwide survey to better understand patterns of social media usage. Subjects consist of common uses of social media – including e-commerce and political engagement – as well as some effects of usage on social and mental well-being.

Among the key findings:

Social media is increasingly used for e-commerce. Over half of Americans (54%) report having clicked on a link to an advertisement in their “feed” during the past month, and nearly half (47%) report having shopped for a product or service on social media in the same time period.

Americans have relied heavily on social media to stay connected during the pandemic. More than two-thirds of respondents (68%) say that they have “relied on social media to stay connected with friends and family during the COVID-19 pandemic”.  A similar majority (63%) say that they’ve used social media more frequently during the pandemic, while nearly half (49%) say that social media has been good for their mental health during this time.

Most adult social media users pay close attention to the amount of time they spend on social media. Nearly six in 10 (59%) Americans say that they spend four or more hours on social media each week, but over half of the survey respondents (53%) say that they closely monitor the amount of time they spend on social media sites.

Most Americans say that keeping up with social media can be stressful. Over half of the survey respondents (57%) report that “keeping up with social media” can be stressful.  However, nearly three-quarters (74%) say that they don’t feel pressured to post interesting content on their own accounts.

Facebook users say that they encounter diverse points of view on the platform. According to data collected by the Pew Research Center, Facebook remains the most widely used social networking platform in the United States, and users increasingly rely on the platform for political news and information.  Despite concerns that social media may limit exposure to alternative viewpoints, our results show that nearly eight in 10 Facebook users (79%) feel that they often encounter political views on the platform that are different than their own.

Despite relying on social media for news and information, most Americans don’t trust the information they encounter there. While over half of the survey respondents (58%) say that they rely on Facebook at least a little to stay informed about news and politics, three-quarters (75%) are not confident in the accuracy of the political information that they encounter on the platform.

Most Americans also say that they don’t trust social media companies when it comes to keeping their personal information secure. A majority of Americans (62%) say that they are either not very confident or not at all confident in the ability of social media companies (such as Facebook and Twitter) to keep their personal information secure.

Political incivility and misinformation lead to unfriending on Facebook. Nearly a quarter of respondents (24%) report having “unfriended” or “unfollowed” someone on Facebook due to their political posts.  The most commonly unfriended accounts are “acquaintances” (17%) and “strangers” (9%). When asked to cite their reasons for “unfriending”, respondents emphasized political posts that they found morally objectionable (18%) or untruthful (18%).

Despite concerns over the security of their personal information, many social media users continue to engage in risky online behaviors. Just under a third of respondents (29%) report having held an ongoing conversation with a stranger on social media over the past 30 days. During the same time period, roughly a quarter also report having engaged in behaviors that could inadvertently share the information in their user profiles, such as completing surveys (23%) and quizzes/games (28%) that appear in their “feeds”.

Teenagers aren’t the only ones whose “body image” and self-esteem are negatively affected by social media. Nearly one-third of respondents (32%) reported sometimes feeling bad about the way they look when they see what others post on social media. Female respondents were slightly more likely than male respondents to agree (36% compared to 27%).

The survey included a representative sample of 1,000 adult social media users, fielded Nov. 2-8, 2021. Results are reported with a confidence level of 95% and a margin of error +/-3 %.

A second round of results, which examines social media’s influence on public discourse, is set to be released next week.

The complete survey results can be found here.

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